The Nain Rouge

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, October 31, 2006 | ,

I've known what I wanted Juniper to be this Halloween since last September, when we first knew that we would be moving to Detroit and I learned about the Nain Rouge from a friend well-versed in cryptozoological urban legends.

The Nain Rouge is a goblin that haunts downtown Detroit. Witnesses have described him as a small, child-sized creature with red hair, "blazing red eyes and rotten teeth." According to legend, the Nain Rouge is a harbinger of doom for the city; every one of the tragic moments faced by this beautiful city has been preceded by a sighting of the creature.

The evil imp's origins are said to precede the arrival of white folks to the Detroit area; before Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac and his lusty French fur-trapping camerados showed up to give him his snooty-sounding moniker, he was known as the "Demon of the Strait" to the Ottawa people. Legend has it that in 1710, Cadillac himself encountered and attacked the Nain Rouge, and within days he lost both his fame and fortune and took off for Montreal a broken man. Nearly sixty years later, during the French and Indian War, on the day before the battle of Bloody Run, the Nain Rouge was observed following a British captain on the banks of the Detroit River. The following day, that captain and 58 of his soldiers were ambushed by Chief Pontiac on the banks of a small tributary of the Detroit River that ran "rouge" with their blood for days.

The Nain Rouge was seen by several witnesses in the days before the massive fire of 1805 which destroyed the majority of Detroit. The American general William Hull claimed he saw the gremlin in the fog just just before his surrender of Detroit to the British during the War of 1812. The creature was seen before calamities throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and most recently was spotted before the 1967 riot that forever changed the city and the day before one of the worst ice storms in the city's history in 1976, two utility workers reported seeing "a child" climb a utility pole and then jump from the top of the pole and run swiftly away as they investigated. A few drunks have seen him here and there since.

The moment I heard about the Nain Rouge last September I knew what I wanted Juniper to be this Halloween. I have been on the lookout for a toddler-sized red wig for a year.

Detroit is a lovely city, but it is the only place where I have ever seen a real coffin for sale in a thrift store. It was right next to the Halloween costumes in a store located in a neighborhood where someone could foreseeably purchase it for non-decorative use. Hanging on the costume rack was a small Elmo costume Juniper's size. I knew I could easily adapt it to trick her into thinking she was Elmo for Halloween, when really she was the Nain Rouge, harbinger of doom.

But then I got to thinking: the Tigers were still in the World Series. The auto companies are lurching towards unheard-of losses. I just bought real estate here. Did I really want to tempt the fates?

I didn't buy the costume, and my wife ultimately convinced me it was the right decision. "Nobody will get it," she said. "And if you try to explain it, you'll sound like an asshole." The other thing: unlike last year, this year Juniper knows about Halloween. I asked her what she wanted to be, and she didn't say "a cryptozoological goblin that brings misfortune to my newly-adopted home." What she said, Wood made on her sewing machine. She's going to be what she wants to be for Halloween.

But when the Tigers lost the series to St. Louis Saturday night, I couldn't help but feel some regret. What worse calamity could my little Nain Rouge have inspired in this city? But a couple days after the world series loss, a study was released stating the St. Louis was the most dangerous city in America, with Detroit in second place.

Sometimes it's better to be in second place.